Well meaning Nigerians including stakeholder groups; the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), civil society organizations, political office holders, politicians, political parties and the general citizens, have been urged to support and include People With disabilities (PWDs) in development plans, and especially creating enabling facilities and conducive environment for them to actively participate in the 2015 general
Well meaning Nigerians including stakeholder groups; the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), civil society organizations, political office holders, politicians, political parties and the general citizens, have been urged to support and include People With disabilities (PWDs) in development plans, and especially creating enabling facilities and conducive environment for them to actively participate in the 2015 general elections.
The call was the resolution reached at the fourth tweet-a-thon forum organized by the International Press Centre (IPC) Lagos, entitled;“2015: Media role in promoting the participation of physically challenged people in elections” which attracted stakeholder from the media, civil society and groups of people living with disabilities.
Organized against the background that PWDs, in spite of their large population are often cut off from actively participating in the elections and the electoral process, and invariably from benefiting from development policies, the forum aimed at addressing the special needs of the physically challenged, to be able to actively participate in the 2015 elections and the democratic governance in Nigeria.
Detailing some of the societal failures in according PWDs basic rights and privileges as part of society, Mr. Simon Ateba, a development Journalist, blogger and public interest social media advocate, who presenter a lead paper on the theme of the forum noted that the society had been unfair and had not shown needed concern to people living with disabilities.
“Our society is in crisis; crisis of compassion, a crisis of leadership, a crisis of knowledge. We are in crisis because we are very selfish individuals who fail to fight for the rights and comfort of our minorities. We are such a bad specimen that it does not bother us when we ride in our air-conditioned expensive cars and see physically challenged compatriots crawling on the floor, and by the roadside full of dust and smell. Yet, it costs so little to get wheelchairs for all those who need them”, he stated.
Lead contributor to the discourse, Mr. Biodun Elugbaju, a sight-impaired journalist, also did not hide his feeling on how the Nigerian state and society at large has continued to neglect and marginalised the people with disabilities, who most of the time cannot help themselves in the often harsh social terrain of the country.
Elugbaju, a Mass Communication graduate, said the county often fails to include issues of Nigerians living with disabilities in day-to-day operations. “If there is a riot here for instance, all of us here would have escaped before remembering the blind. It is the empirical fact, our electoral law should be reshaped, if there is a crisis on the Election Day, what is the fate of the blind?” he asked.
In his own comment, President of the National Handicapped Carers Association, Mr. Adewale Adeyanju, a hearing impaired activist narrated the difficulties he and members of the deaf community face on a daily basis. Lamenting the neglect people living with disabilities face on a daily basis, he said: “I am very grateful to be here and the topic today is very helpful. What people with disabilities are passing through is enormous. I am deaf, and for the deaf, for instance, to attend a program like this, we have problem of interpreters, because interpreter want to collect so much money in using sign language to interpret for us,” he lamented.
He noted that the disability community are often treated as if they do not exist as there are no plans to cater for them to be able to participate in the elections. “During the election, nobody is there to explain anything to us, the deaf do not have information, many of us want to contest, we have professionals among us but where do we get N500,000 to buy the forms, many of us are poor, how do we raise such amount? He queried.
“We have been excluded from 1960 that Nigeria gained independence, now PWDs are up to 25 million, which is like the population of Lagos, yet we have been left to suffer. If you go to Ghana, they carry the PWDs along; they make laws that support them.
“Though there was a law passed in Lagos since 2011, but many people don’t know that the law states that companies should give jobs to PWDs, the companies don’t even know, they would tell you they are not aware. The government should create more awareness so that we can be empowered,” he urged.
Still on the elections, Ateba asked salient questions. According to him, the community of people living with disabilities are often marginalised and may not be interested in the elections because of the neglect they suffer. “Where are the rich in the society? We are the richest people in Africa and we can do more for the people living with disabilities,” he said. He asked further, “Why should the people with disabilities bother when we see them as beggars, when we see them as people who are cursed and who are paying for their sins, when the banks and the roads are not friendly for their movement, when they are rejected, abused and tormented? Why should they bother when we have relegated their issues to the background, when we do not set agenda, when we do not give them jobs, not because they are not qualified?” He queried.
Ateba however urged journalists to be conversant with issues concerning people living with disabilities and continue to set agenda in order to project their plight to the fore for urgent attention, since they are equally parts of the society.
Guest contributor at the event, Mr. Adeola Soetan, who is the Coordinator of a civil society group, Democracy Vanguard, in his own remark called on the people living with disabilities to begin to mount pressure and place demands on the authorities for their wellbeing.
“People with disabilities should now begin to mount pressure, let people know all fingers are equal on election days, that is why this program is very important,” he said. Soetan also stated further that, “people living with disabilities should exercise their power to vote on the basis of putting a demand to politicians on their rights, either they are councillor or governorship candidates.”
A number of tweets were also generated from the forum to galvanize stakeholders and citizens responsibilities to ensure active participation of PWDs in elections.
In his tweet, Adeyanju wrote: “during elections, we are being marginalised; electoral officers have not been helpful.”
Sam Ade also tweeted: “government won’t help the disabled people, the media may. I believe the media will make a lead in it.”
Another tweet from Omoluwabi Ayodele asked a vital question Nigerians may need to answer sincerely: “Will Nigeria vote for a physically challenged presidential candidate?”
“Disability is not in the eyes, I may be blind but I can see more than others. Not until the disability bill is passed into law, physically challenged people will continue to be oppressed,” Elugbaju tweeted.
“All well said, it is hoped that all stakeholders would use their respective good offices to advance the cause of PWDs, especially their involvement in the 2015 elections. It is hoped that media practitioners will provide platform to and a voice for the people living with disabilities to champion their cause in Nigeria’s democratic journey”, Sanmi Falobi, IPC’s Program Associate said, in his closing remark at the forum.